by Rebecca York



Chapter One of
Carina Press
By Ruth Glick,
writing as Rebecca York
Publication August, 2012

It wasn’t too late. If she went back now, nobody would know she’d ever been missing. She could put the boy’s leggings and loose shirt back in her brother’s room and pretend she wasn’t dying inside.

Rowan shifted the strap of her carry bag on her shoulder and turned to look down at Valleyhold, the secret village where she had lived all her life.

From her vantage point at the top of a low mountain, she couldn’t see the thatched roofs of the comfortable houses, the hidden garden plots, the herds of sheep, or even the meeting hall or the market square. They were all hidden by trees planted to conceal the existence of her people from anyone who might wander into these mountains.

And the wards that guarded the valley would prevent anyone from coming closer.

Facing away from the village again, she pressed her palm against the transparent wall that shielded her people. It was like the skin of a soap bubble, yet much stronger–strong enough to hold back the enemies who would destroy everyone she knew if their existence was discovered.

Along with the invisible wall came another protection. A soundless warning. A buzzing in Rowan’s head.

Danger. Go back. Danger.

It was only an echo on this side of the barrier. She knew that on the other side, its power was magnified a thousand times.

The villagers kept the protections in place by the strength of their mental powers. It was taxing work, but everyone took on the duty for a few hours once a fortnight.

Rowan’s chest tightened painfully. She should be lying on one of the narrow cots at the guardhouse two days hence. But she would be gone, and someone would have to fill her place.

Unless she changed her mind.

She stroked her hand against the transparent shield, feeling a slight vibration. She had only been here a few times. The elders took groups of young children up the mountain to the barrier and recounted the solemn tale of the great massacre when her people had been hunted down and killed by soldiers from Arandal.

The survivors had come here. For more than a century, they had lived and prospered here. Rowan had been happy in Valleyhold until everything changed.

Well, not all in a flash. But she knew when the destructive seeds had been planted–two years ago, when Telman had come to the village. A man who had ignored the warnings of danger, walked through the barrier, and lived. Proof positive of his strong mental powers.

She grimaced. The village elders had been awed, and he’d worked his way in among them, making himself useful with his talents and suggestions. He’d acted as though he was only looking out for the best interests of the village, but Rowan knew he had ambitions. And one of them was to have her for his wife. When he had begun to court her six months ago, his touch made her insides curdle.

“Telman.” She whispered his name aloud to give herself the courage she needed to take the final step.

He was evil, although it seemed few others could sense it. Did no one else see his ugly snake tattoo as a symbol of his true nature?

Not even her parents heeded the warning. They had left her alone with him more than once as a sign of their regard.

But she knew better. In the garden when they were alone, he had stroked aside her blond hair and whispered in her ear.

“You are so beautiful. With powers of the mind few possess. I will take your virginity and teach you to please me in every way a woman can serve a man. You will attend to my needs, and you will have the honor of bearing my children–sons who will form a dynasty to rule the valley and beyond.”

She could hardly believe his audacity in making his intentions so plain. In fact, she had tried to say some of it to her mother and had been met with shocked disbelief.

She glanced back toward the village, seeing nothing besides his leering face.

That was enough to make her press her hand more firmly against the barrier.

Although no ordinary person could walk through it, she was far from ordinary. Even as a child, she had shown great talent in the mental disciplines. Her special power was manipulating the physical world, and although the barrier was generated by mental powers, it had physical properties.

“Forgive me,” she said aloud as she bent to her purpose, knowing she could die in the next few moments.

Gathering her will, she made the vibrations within the shield speed up. There was no way to explain in words what she was doing. She only knew that she did it.

Outwardly, nothing changed, but she felt a shift in the quality of the barrier.

Holding her focus, she stepped quickly forward, sensing resistance as the shield tried to wall her in. A terrible pain in her head made her feel like her skull might split in two. She gasped, caught in the barrier, knowing the only way out was forward.

Teeth gritted, she pressed onward, then stumbled as she broke through.

She dragged in a great gasp of air, but it wasn’t over. The travelers warning was all around her now, transmuted to a silent shriek, making it hard to think or even breathe.

Danger. Go back. Danger.

She sank to her knees, pressing her hands over her ears, but it didn’t block the screaming in her brain. Or the agony.

Barely able to breathe, she wanted to curl into a ball and wrap her arms around her head to stop the invisible knives piercing her skull.

Instead she forced herself to her hands and knees and started crawling, pain still stabbing at her.

Almost deaf and blind, she finally crawled past the beacon. The silence was like a blessing from the gods.

Rolling to her back, she stared up at the sky, knowing she had barely escaped death.

When she felt strong enough, she picked herself up and began to walk on shaky legs away from the only home she had ever known.

As her strength returned, she began to notice her surroundings. The vegetation here was much like that in the mountains above Valleyhold, but the air smelled different, although she couldn’t say exactly what was changed.

Pressing into the unknown, she fought a terrible sadness, even when she knew there was nothing left for her at home.

She must be like the brave and cunning men who left the village from time to time to go out into the world, trade for goods that the community needed and bring back news from the outside world.

But what man would think a woman had dared to leave the safety of the valley?

The only one who would wonder if Rowan had run away was her sister. She hadn’t revealed her plans, but Willow knew how much she dreaded Telman’s attentions.

Would he switch his sexual attentions to Willow? Rowan thought not since her sister’s talents were more subtle, and she was dark, while Rowan was fair. Not Telman’s type, she prayed. Let him find a wife who couldn’t sense the evil in him.

As she hurried onward, she vowed two things. She would never go back, and she would never tell anyone about Valleyhold, lest she bring the wrath of Arandal down on her people.

Trying not to think of her family or anyone else she was leaving behind, Rowan trudged on.

She had told her mother she would be on the upper slopes of the mountain, gathering herbs. Which gave her an excuse to carry the bag slung over her shoulder. She hoped she wouldn’t be missed until well into the afternoon.

It was strange to be so far from home. She knew so little of the outside world. Only what news the men brought back, and the old stories that had been passed down through the generations. But from the reports of the travelers, she dared to hope that life on this side of the barrier was enough like life in Valleyhold that she could make her way, using her skill with herbs and healing.

Tired and thirsty, she stopped at a stream to drink, then sat down on a boulder and peered ahead of her where a vast forest loomed dark and foreboding. Was she far enough away from Valleyhold to make camp?

She hoped so, because the sun had already set, and her feet and legs ached.

Low in the sky, she saw the two moons rising. Carabine the larger one and Meladine, her smaller sister.

As a girl, she’d camped out under those moons and a velvet sky full of stars, with the other children sent to guard the sheep. But this was different. She’d been safe inside the shield. Out here, anything could happen.

As if to confirm that thought, movement flickered at the corner of her vision.

Her breath caught as she looked up and saw a great winged creature in the darkening sky.

Much too big for a bird.

A dragon!

She had seen one over the village, breathing fire down onto the shield. Once it had broken through, but the villagers had all worked together, repairing the burned spot and repelling the dragon.

It wheeled above her in the sky as though searching for something, and she ducked low, praying that it hadn’t seen her.

Her prayers were in vain. The beast dived, a scream rising in its throat as it hurtled toward her.


  by Ruth Glick, writing as Rebecca York,
  Publication Date: August 2012
  Copyright © 2012 by Ruth Glick.
  This edition published by arrangement with Carina Press